Millennials Revealed

Figure 1: Generations Comparison on Risk
Figure 1: Generations Comparison on Risk

As the workforce demographics change, millennials continue to grow in importance not only as team members, but as leaders. While considerable emphasis has been placed on recruiting and retaining millennials, most organizations still struggle to attract the best and brightest of this dynamic generation. A recent meeting with executives at a client summed up the situation well: “we just want to know what we need to do to make them interested in us.”

One of the struggles underlying our efforts pertains to the fact that millennials are the most studied and analyzed generation in history, yet we still tend toward overgeneralization when describing them. The media and other “snapshot” mediums paint a very one dimensional and simple picture of a non-material, socially conscious, electronically connected, and pampered group.

A recent study of 10,000 millennials by CEB found that the typical stereotypes may be off-base. They reported the following myths and realities based on their research:

• Myth No. 1: Millennials place high value on social media.
• Reality: Millennials use social media, but they do not trust it as much as other sources.
• Myth No. 2: Millennials are motivated by money.
• Reality: Money matters, but not as much as opportunity.
• Myth No. 3: Millennials would rather collaborate than compete.
• Reality: Millennials are the most competitive generation.
• Myth No. 4: Millennials rely on their peers to get work done.
• Reality: Millennials are less trusting of their peers and many prefer to “go it alone.”
• Myth No. 5: Millennials want to jump from organization to organization.
• Reality: Millennials want different experiences, not necessarily different organizations.

What do these results tell us? Basically, millennials recognize the value of opportunity, need new challenges and experiences, seek to standout, and want the freedom to design their own path. By nature, millennials encourage organizations to be more dynamic in their internal and external operations.

A recent, 2014 survey by HCS captures the differences between millennials and other generations when considering workplace dynamism. Figure 1 summarizes the results in a sample of 80 organizations in a variety of industries. In all four categories, millennials possess more of an interest in the cumulative interest of those in other generations. The largest gap between groups appears in job sharing. The latest generation is not afraid to learn new things and to gain new experiences. Participating in high risk projects occupy a close second place in the survey results. Even the smallest difference (learning opportunities) speaks highly of millennials since the level of interest stands out as the highest of the four categories at 78 percent.

What does this tell us? We owe it to our employees and our organization to make sure we are going beyond the simple stereotypes and leveraging the values and attitudes of this key group of team members.

Our Future: Millennials in the Workforce

millennial-statsHave you ever thought that each successive generation appears to be more lazy and selfish than the last? Some of this perception arises from the creeping conservatism that we all go through as we age.  As we get older and we transition from being the “young and beautiful” of our society to more stuffy versions of ourselves, we naturally assume the next generation has it easier, grows up faster, and works less to get what they have.  Put simply, self-supporting filtered comparisons make up a key part of human nature.  However, I think we can all agree that as relative affluence changes, so do ideas and behaviors.  In other words, the degree to which my basic as well as most developed needs are met help define who I am, how I act, and what I do.

The Millennials or Generation Y (those born between roughly between 1980 and 2000) possess the same stereotype as previous generations.  Mainstream media has spent the last several decades warning us about the Millennials. Its overblown dramatization of the stereotypical entitled, self-absorbed, and controlling Millennial seems to appear all segments of media.  As the largest age grouping in US history (80 million) and accounting for 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, getting to know them better is paramount to the success of not just our organizations, but our country and world.

So, what do some typically presented numbers say?

  • Sixty (60) percent  of employed Millennials have already changed careers at least once s and will have held an average of seven jobs by 26 years old (Intrepid Study 2010)
  • Fifty-eight (58) percent more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than 1982 (National Institutes of Health)
  • Sixty (60) percent of Millennials expect a lot of themselves by indicating they will “feel” what is right in a situation instead of deferring to another source (National Study of Youth and Religion)
  • More people 18-29 live with their parents than a spouse (Clark University)
  • Twenty-three (23) percent of companies reported having heavy contact with parents of millennial employees. (College Employment Research Institute)
  • Four (4) percent of employers involved reported parents attended their children’s job interviews(College Employment Research Institute)
  • Thirty-one (31) percent of employers involved reported parents submitted resumes on behalf of their offspring. (College Employment Research Institute)

These numbers capture the commonly presented image of spoiled and needy.  However, they only tell one side of the story.  What the above numbers leave out is some very positive characteristics:

  • Seventy-five (75) percent link who they are as a person to what they do for a living (Bersin)
  • Most committed to self-expression of recent generations (US Chamber of Commerce)
  • Eighty (80) percent want a job with more responsibility (Families and Work Institute)
  • Millennials are the most educated generation in American history (US DOL)
  • Eighty-three (83) percent feel technology make work easier (Telefonica)
  • More team-focused that other groups (Boston Consulting Group)
  • More than a quarter, 27 percent are already self-employed (US Chamber of Commerce)
  • Sixty-five (65) percent of Millennials said personal development was the most influential factor in selecting their current job (UNC)

Millennials clearly desire more flexibility, growth, and customization in their careers.  By nature, they demand more of us as coaches, managers, and leaders.  Yet, they offer more education, diversity, social awareness, technology ability, and entrepreneurial spirit than any other segment of our workforce.  I hope we would all agree that as we strive to become more competitive, that a great combination to have.

If you want to test how Millennial you are, here is a great test offered by the Pew Research Center:


Graduation: Let’s Celebrate?

Graduation is an exciting time.  It signals an end to one phase of life and transition to another.  Most of us probably have cherished memories of the excitement of having the world at our feet and being ready to make our mark.  In the best of circumstances, it is a time of leaving behind the last vestiges of childhood and beginning one’s professional adventure.  However, in the dark days of the downturn, many are finding that the transition is not as sweet as it used to be.  For all but a special few, it is a time of frustration and even disenchantment.

The class of 2012 is finding that timing can make a big difference in realizing dreams.  Although unemployment is lowest among those with a college degree, it is highest among those under 24 years of age. To put it in context, unemployment almost reaches more than 15 percent for job seekers 20 to 24 years of age.  Moreover, the “stickiness” of the current level of unemployment continues similar to the trend starting in 2010 and is unlikely to change in the next 12 to 24 months (

How has the downturn affected recent graduates over the last five to six years?  About half of graduates since 2006 are without either employment or underemployed in their current positions.  Some surveys estimate that as many as 20 percent of recent graduates are looking for some form of full time employment.  Similarly, only approximately 30 percent of recent graduates indicate they are working in their chosen career.  It is safe to assume that some portion of the remaining 50 percent is underemployed while working for low skill, service sector jobs.  Basically, a generation of potential employees continues to wait in a holding pattern frozen in time.

What does mean for our future employees?

Labor Mobility

It is likely that the years of uncertainty will further diminish the idea of the traditional employee-employer contract.  Looking back one day, the economic downturn may be characterized as the final death nail of employee loyalty.  Once hired, these employees will have seen the impact of turmoil, lived with extended uncertainty, and recognize that an employee needs to be self-guided and motivated.

Outcome: reinforce the transient nature of the labor market between organizations as opportunities present themselves.

Govern Reality

Experience of the last four years will diminish the once growing perception that “things have nowhere to go but up” or overly positive outlooks.  A whole generation of young managers and employees alike assumed that the downturn was temporary or even a minor correction since those economic adjustments made up the domain of their experience.  The impact of the economic downturn will stay with current graduates throughout their careers and temper their perspectives and decisions.

Outcome: change in risk profile and future slowdown responses.

Commitment to Alternatives

The classic pattern of seeking non-career centered endeavors after retirement has been changing in the last several decades.  It has become increasingly acceptable to change careers, alter course in the middle years, and move to something more engaging, challenging, or fulfilling.  The flexibility practiced by this cohort to deal with current economic realities should accentuate this trend.  New entrepreneurial as well as socially conscience enterprises should become more common in response to the generational characteristics coupled with the results of the downturn.

Outcome: leaving to pursue outside of career interests will be more of an option.